Italian Painting – Siennese School

Characteristics. — Of secondary importance in the history of Italian painting; exerted little influence and comprises few names of especial note; marked by a love for the rendering of spiritual rather than physical life and by refinement and sweetness of expression. Its earliest masters gave much attention to detail and picturing of ornament.

GOTHIC PERIOD, 1250-1400.

Guido da Sienna (dates of life uncertain) is the first known painter of Sienna.

In the church of San Domenico, Sienna, is an altar-piece, a Madonna and Child, painted in 1281 and signed by this artist. The style is strictly Byzantine, but there is a very slight attempt at roundness and movement in the Child’s head.

Duccio (was painting 1282-1329 ?), of Sienna, was the first master of the school.

He was contemporary with Giotto, but the works of the two are very different. Duccio’s painting is simply an improvement on the Byzantine. It shows added grace and motion, a sweeter facial expression, more natural hands and feet, but no real change of growth.

Giotto’s, on the other hand, is a revolt from the old method, full of new conception and endeavor. Duccio possessed the greater refinement; Giotto, the far greater strength, and was of infinitely more value to the art world.

We read that an altar-piece painted by Duccio was borne to the Cathedral of Sienna with pomp and rejoicing even as that of Cimabue in Florence. This altar-piece (which represents on its front the Madonna with Child surrounded by angels, and on the back a series of small pictures illustrating the life of Christ), separated into various parts, is now in the Opera del Duomo, Sienna.

Simone Martini (1283 ?-1344), often called Simone Memmi, is an important name of the early Siennese School.

Character of Painting. — Byzantine type softened and improved : mildness of expression, lack of force, little effort at composition, a total lack of perspective drawing, much detail of ornament, and careful execution.

Most important works :

Frescoes from the Life of St. Martin. Lower Church of Assisi. FRESCOES. Palazzo Pubblico, Sienna.

” Virgin and Saints.” S. Domenico, Orvieto.

” Annunciation.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

For frescoes in Spanish chapel of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, often ascribed to Simone Martini, see Andrea da Firenze, p. 28.

Lippo Memmi ( 1357) was a brother-in-law of Simone Martini, and, though an inferior artist, painted so much like him that there is some difficulty in distinguishing their work. He completed several pictures left unfinished at Martini’s death.

Most important works :

FRESCOES. Palazzo del Podesta, San Gemignano. Altar-piece. Chapel of S. Corporale, Orvieto.

Lorenzetti Brothers, Pietro and Ambrogio (were painting about 1350), are the most noted Siennese artists of the fourteenth century. Their work is much more advanced and vigorous than that of Duccio and Martini, and resembles that of Giotto more than does any other Siennese painting. Ambrogio is the greater artist.

Most important works :

Ambrogio. — FRESCOES. Palazzo Pubblico, Sienna.

Remains of frescoes. S. Francis, Sienna.

Pietro.— Altar-pieces. Church of Sant’ Ansano and Gallery, Arezzo.

Series of frescoes. Lower Church of St. Francis, Assisi.

Crowe and Cavalcaselle believe that the celebrated frescoes, the ” Last Judgment ” and ” Triumph of Death,” in the Campo Santo of Pisa, were painted by the Lorenzetti brothers. Other distinguished authorities differ in opinion. (See Orcagna, p. 29.)

Matteo da Sienna (about 1435—1495) is the greatest Siennese name among artists of the fifteenth century, and represents the highest development of the style of Duccio. He was, however, greatly inferior to his Florentine contemporaries, because while the methods of artistic representation had developed so rapidly in Florence, they had made little progress in Sienna. The religious sentiment of Matteo’s work is of a high order; his faces are solemn and sweet and the action of some of his figures very admirable. When, how-ever, he attempted to go beyond the expression of simple and quiet sentiment, he failed utterly.

Most important works :

Altar-piece. Church of S. Domenico, Sienna.

Altar-piece. ” Assumption of the Virgin.” National Gallery, London.

” Murder of the Innocents.” Museum, Naples.


Il Sodoma (Giovanantonio Bazzi, sometimes written Razzi, about 1477—1549), born in Vercelli, was a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, at Milan, and is often classed in the Lombard School. He was also influenced by Raphael. He spent much of his life in Sienna, and his influence was sensibly felt in all the later Siennese painting.

He was an unequal painter, and much of his work is evidently inferior to his ability, but it possesses a certain strong fascination that renders the artist a favorite. Lanzi pays him the very doubtful compliment that, “though unwilling to paint well, he did not know how to paint badly.”

Characteristics.—The influence of Leonardo is strikingly seen in much of Sodoma’s work. His composition is like his master’s, also his type of female faces; indeed, his best female heads rank with those of Leonardo; very many of them, however, though like, are less noble.

His figures are slender and long-limbed, his hands long, with tapering fingers.

His draperies are marked by serpentine folds.

His backgrounds often contain running water (like Leonardo’s) usually a broad stream winding away into the distance, with groups of low trees along the banks. A hill is frequently introduced on one side, with towers and temples.

In his earlier works the color and chiaroscuro are light and clear. They are much fuller in his later pictures.

His portraits are admirable. Most important works :

FRESCO. ” Descent into Hades.” Gallery, Sienna. This contains a most exquisite figure of Eve that is justly famous.

” Christ Bound to a Column,” a fresco transferred to canvas. Gallery, Sienna.

FRESCOES. Chapel of St. Catherine of Sienna, San Domenico, Sienna.

Frescoes representing scenes in Life of St. Benedict. Convent of Mont’ Oliveto.

FRESCOES (among which is the famous “Marriage of Alexander and Roxana ” ). Villa Farnesina, Rome.

” St. Sebastian.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

” Ascension.” Naples Museum.

” Madonna with Child and St. Joseph,”” Leda.” Borghese Gallery, Rome.

Portrait. Staedel Museum, Frankfort.

Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536) is famous as an architect and is of considerable note as a painter. He was an imitator of Pinturricchio (see Roman or Umbrian School, p. 72), and of Il Sodoma ; was also somewhat influenced by Raphael.

His work is decorative ; the perspective representations are particularly fine.

Representative works :

FRESCO. Madonna di Fontegiusta, Sienna.

FRESCOES. Sant’ Onofrio and Madonna del Pace, Rome.

FRESCOES. Villa Farnesina, Rome.

Easel Pictures. Gallery, Madrid.

Domenico Beccafumi (1486–1551) was an imitator of Il Sodoma, but of less importance than Peruzzi. He assisted Sodoma in the frescoes of the oratory of San Bernardino, Sienna.

His coloring is exceedingly clear and well preserved. Representative works :

FRESCOES. Ceiling of Palazzo Pubblico, Sienna.

Altar-piece. Gallery, Sienna.

Easel Pictures in Palazzo Doria, Rome ; Pitti Gallery, Florence ; and Old Pinacothek, Munich.